European notebook: EU blasts Turkey's energy search; Covid hurts wind farm production

Also, Germany and the U.S. are at odds over a German pipeline deal with Russia and the EU and Swiss have promised to link carbon markets next month

By Elizabeth Hearst

(Elizabeth Hearst is based in Ireland and a graduate of Dublin City University's Masters of Journalism. She’s interned with the Racing Post — the UK and Ireland's top horse-racing newspaper - and has worked for the National Broadcaster RTE at the Irish General Election).

DUBLIN (Callaway Climate Insights) — In an effort to ease tensions in the region, the European Union has called on Turkey to immediately stop exploring for gas in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Turkey’s recent exploration for gas in the disputed region has placed it at odds with Greece and the EU, following calls from Brussels for Turkey to halt its expedition off the coast of Cyprus. 

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell labeled the Turkish decision to extend its search off the southwestern coast of Cyprus as one that “regrettably fuels further tensions and insecurity in the Eastern Mediterranean.” 

The conflict has also traveled across the Atlantic with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu discussing the issue at a meeting in the Dominican Republic. 

Turkey has defied all requests to halt exploration and stated that its drill ship Yavuz will explore the southwestern coast of the island until Sept. 15, and added that they “strongly advise against going to the search area.” 

On Wednesday, Turkey announced a new energy discovery in the Black Sea, likely natural gas.

Despite calls from European leaders for Turkey to step back from the mission, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the nation was open for dialogue, yet insisted, “We will not back down in the face of sanctions and threats.” 

. . . . Installation of wind farms in Europe is predicted to be around 20% less than 2020 estimates because of the coronavirus, according to a new report. Installation of land wind turbines increased a bit in the first few months of 2020. But the report by WindEurope said that despite the slight gain, the figures illustrate that Europe is “not on track for the installation levels expected in 2020.”

Offshore wind installations are down by nearly 40% from 1.9 gigawatts in 2019 to an estimated 1.2 gigawatts during the first half of 2020. The 2020 figures are also a decline from the previous three-year average of gigawatts.

WindEurope stressed that the large numbers of individual wind operations means that these offshore installations can “vary significantly year on year” and highlights that the 2019 figure represents a “record year for offshore wind in Europe.”

. . . . Germany is snapping back as the U.S. raps a Russian gas pipeline deal. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas hit back at U.S. threats of sanctions over the country’s involvement with a Russian gas pipeline. 

Speaking in Berlin, Maas described a recent phone call with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in which he mentioned the sanctions and expressed his “surprise and displeasure.”

His comments come after Republican senators Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Ron Johnson sent the letter to Fährhafen Sassnitz GmbH, the operator of Mukran Port, in which they pledged tough sanctions related to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. 

The €10 billion pipeline, which is near completion, will see Russian natural gas shipments to Germany double, something that the U.S. is unhappy with. The EU currently relies on Russia to provide almost half of all its gas imports.

In July, the Trump administration unveiled plans to halt the project, and detailed potential sanctions it would impose on companies that participated in its construction. The U.S. fears that this relationship with Russia will reduce its share of the European gas market with its liquified gas. 

The Ukraine, Poland and Baltic States have also expressed their displeasure at the agreement, as they fear it will give Russia further control over European energy markets. 

. . . . The European Union is considering implementing quotas on airlines to promote the use of sustainable fuels. Although Covid-19 has sent shock waves through the aviation industry, the EU is keen to implement new initiatives to encourage airlines to use sustainable fuels.  

CO2 emissions from flights within Europe have climbed every year since 2013 and with 30% of the European recovery fund earmarked for green investments, the EU wants to ensure that the aviation industry can be carbon neutral by 2050.

The Commission published its options include quotas for airlines to encourage the use of sustainable fuels, and also provide an obligation for the fuel industry to produce a minimum amount needed. A European trading system for fuel carbon credits, European tenders for sustainable fuel production and a new “green airline” accreditation scheme are also on the cards.

Countries including the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium and Denmark have called for EU taxes on aviation to combat its environmental impact. However, a unilateral agreement on taxation may prove difficult because EU taxes must be agreed unanimously, and could potentially be vetoed by a single member state.

. . . . The European Commission pledged that the planned link-up of the EU and Swiss carbon markets will be fully operational in September.

The EU carbon market is one of the cornerstones of the European climate neutrality initiative, in which power plants, factories and airlines must purchase permits to offset the pollutants they emit.

The initial launch date in May was pushed back owing to the Covid-19 outbreak, and once implemented will see a provisional system used to launch trading this year.

The current regime operates in all EU countries in addition to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The system currently limits emissions from more than 11,000 heavy energy-using installations and airlines operating within these countries, and covers around 45% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Developed in 2005, the trading system of the EU is the world’s first international emissions trading system, with 2020 emissions from the included sectors predicted to be 21% lower than in 2005, with the EU on track to suppress this target.

The EU is also considering linking its current carbon emissions trading system with Britain’s proposed carbon market. The UK has pledged to set up its own scheme when the it leaves the EU program at the end of the Brexit transition period.

. . . . The EU will propose measures to raise the EU’s climate target for 2030 next month, with an “impact assessment” study due that will evaluate the costs and benefits of raising the goals in a bid to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

Vivian Loonela, EU Commission spokesperson for the European Green Deal, said: “We are working on the impact assessment as well as the proposal to come out in September.” The aim is to reduce the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by “at least 50%” below 1990 levels and “towards 55%,” according to Loonela.

Based on the findings of the assessment, the EU will decide whether to increase their reduction target to 50-55% by 2030 from the original figure of 40%. This reduction is a centerpiece in the European Green Deal branded as Europe’s “new growth strategy” by President Ursula von der Leyen. The EU’s current obligations under the Paris Agreement would require a 60-65% reduction of emissions in order for the EU to limit global warming by 1.5℃.

Above, windfarm in Germany. Photo: Dirk Ingo Franke/flickr